I recently had a brief Facebook exchange with a few irritated atheists. It seems a prominent Christian, in commenting about the Navy’s consideration of including atheists in the Chaplain Corps, made the bold claim that not a single atheist has served in the Armed Forces. Well…that’s how they took it anyway. What he said was, “If there aren’t atheists in foxholes, why should we put them in the Chaplain Corps?”
Now, I think most people recognize that “there aren’t atheists in foxholes” is a hyperbolic expression regarding the impact impending danger can have on a person’s existential beliefs. Fear of death often motivates fear of God. Most people understand that this man wasn’t saying that there are literally no atheists who have served our country.
But atheists aren’t most people, and that’s the problem. Their minority worldview can result in them being marginalized or ignored, so they already feel like they don’t exist, and the hyperbole was lost on many of them.
“Combat veteran here. It always seems to blow people’s (right-wingers) minds when they find out that there ARE atheists in foxholes.”
“No atheists in foxholes? Right. And the moon is made of cheese.”
“Ive been in 15 years and deployed 4 times… guess what? Ive been an Atheist the whole time.”
Atheists get no respect
Like the LGBT community, atheists seek respect and recognition for their unconventionality, and I can certainly sympathize with that. All people want respect and deserve it simply by virtue of their being human persons with inherent worth. But respecting a person is not the same as respecting the person’s ideology. Though many atheists, I’m sure, just want to be free to disbelieve without feeling like an outcast, they shouldn’t be surprised when theists are wary of them. Just as we would be of radical Muslims.
I’m not equating atheists with terrorists, only saying that ideology impacts practically everything. And if an atheist or radical Muslim holds a position of influence over me or my family, their ideology is my concern.
Of course, in this country we have policies against religious litmus tests for public office and public schools, and I’m all for that. Still, a political candidate’s atheism would factor into my decision on whether to vote for him or her, and if my child’s teacher was an atheist I would want to debrief him every single afternoon over his milk and cookies.
Even the Godless need community
But I can see how the wariness of many theists to give atheists whole-hearted approval might sting a little. Atheists have feelings too, after all. So they organize and attend atheist events in order to encourage one another and build community. Some attend atheist “churches” for Sunday morning assemblies complete with singing, hand-clapping, and an inspirational message. And a feeling of belonging.
Others connect on social media in atheist forums or Facebook pages, like the one I wandered into. Those are great for getting validation and support for your worldview when you see everyone else’s comments fitting neatly into it. Except for when someone like me pops in. But I recognize that it’s their “thing” so I didn’t stay long nor did I even challenge their atheism there.
Still others use social media to tell the world that they do, in fact, exist. Using #normalizeatheism, they post pictures of their very normal-looking selves doing very normal things, to say, this is what an atheist looks like and I’m not much different than you so please don’t ostracize me.
Let’s all discriminate
In the kind of world most of us want, all people would respect each other indiscriminate of their personal views. But though not discriminating against the person, we should discriminate between conflicting views and be intentional about reasoning to the truth and promoting it. Respectfully.
So because I believe the truth is that God exists, I’m against normalizing atheism. But because I know that atheists also exist, and that they like all of us are created in his image, I am for normalizing atheists.